N is for News and how we react to it

This week’s news of the conviction of Rolf Harris on 12 counts of indecent assault made me think about how I react to items in the news.

I’m not generally a follower of celebrities, but I was a Rolf Harris fan, watching on television as a child and, once, being taken to see a live show – at Yarmouth Hippodrome if I remember rightly. When the accusations had become public I’d had to think through how I felt, so when friends commented on facebook following his conviction, I was able to contribute: ‘It’s very difficult. But I’m sure that people who do bad things aren’t bad all of the time, they do good things too, and those can be genuinely good things to have done. Surely nobody is totally evil or totally good.’

Much more strikingly, years ago in July 2005, I was at work when someone in the office picked up from the internet and read out the news of the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes. Of course, we didn’t even know his name then. My immediate response was ‘I wish they hadn’t shot him’. My colleagues almost all took issue with me over this, arguing that he was clearly a terrorist, that the police knew what they were doing, that it was essential that they defend themselves and us. I, a bit surprised at the strength of my own reaction and conviction, had to argue my case. I think the initial response came from a total conviction that killing people is wrong, but I was also able to say that now he was dead he could not be questioned, could not give any more information, and that the police might be wrong, that he may not have been intent on becoming a suicide bomber. Interestingly, at least one of my colleagues remembered my reaction, when it later came out that Jean Charles de Menezes was totally innocent.

Much more usually I fail to respond at all. I’m not sure what to say, and so I say nothing.

But what is striking me this week is how powerful a situation this is, how we have the opportunity to put a different view by our reaction to items in the news that are in people’s minds, by our responses to these matters when they come up in conversation.

So, returning to Rolf Harris, an conversation began in the office about how long a sentence he would get, how long he would serve, how long people should serve. I was able to contribute some views in favour of assuming that people can change, and that people need hope. To lock someone up for life with no hope gives them no incentive to do anything positive at all. To lock someone up may protect others from that person’s actions, but does nothing to prevent any one of us becoming a child molester or murderer. We all need to try and see things from another person’s point of view, to see what really causes people to commit crimes, to understand how we need to change things to reduce the risks to everyone.

So, I shall be looking out for more opportunities in the future, and doing some hard thinking too, about all sorts of issues, so as to be better prepared to contribute.


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